Goodness – where do I start?! There’s so much to tell about this race.
Day 1 – May 4 We opted to make a weekend out of the event and arrived at Walt Disney World (WDW) early Friday morning. Like, really early: out the front door at 6:45am to battle rush hour traffic through Tampa. We made it to the Magic Kingdom (MK) just after it opened and spent a lovely morning doing our favorite rides with a friend who was on her last day of vacation. My plan was to take it easy on our feet, and I know we walk and stand less at the MK than at any other WDW park. We left after lunch to go to packet pick-up.
The Expedition Everest Challenge (EEC) packet pick-up area at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex went smoothly. We grabbed our packet and shirts, took a couple pictures in the photo-op area, and signed the giant poster.
|"Chilling" at Base Camp|
Temps were soaring and it was HOT at the sports complex! We were more than ready to get off our feet and into a nice, cool pool. Our resort of choice was Animal Kingdom Villas at Kidani Village. Animal Kingdom Lodge was a host resort for the race, meaning that buses to and from the race would be available to guests staying there. Since the race didn’t start until 9:30pm, I thought it best to let Disney do the driving and the nice lady checking us in confirmed that race buses would pick up at both the Lodge and Kidani Village. Remember that.
A quick change in the room and we enjoyed an hour or so at the pool, where Leo sailed down the slide repeatedly and I pored over a cheesy tabloid magazine. With no real plans for the evening, we decided to wing it for dinner and headed over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In retrospect, that was a bad idea; it wound up being way too much time walking and standing the day before our race and my feet paid for it. But at the time, it was nice to grab some pizza and salads at Pizza Planet and ride Star Tours before getting to bed.
Day 2 – May 5 Race day! But we had an entire day to kill first. Yet, I wanted to preserve our feet and legs. What to do, what to do… after a late-for-us wake up around 8:30am, and after breakfast in our villa, Leo and I decided to use our Disney Vacation Club pool-hopping perk for the first time and drove to the Polynesian Resort to enjoy its volcano-themed feature pool.
We need to do that more often! For two hours, Leo swam and played with other kids, while I read in a beach chair and generally blissed-out. I don’t what it is about that place, but I think it might be the most relaxing spot in all of WDW.
I could have stayed there all day, but we needed some true down time, so after eating a quick sandwich lunch at the Polynesian, we went back to our room for showers and sleep. Or, in Leo’s case, lying in bed pretending to sleep. He sure did try, but he was too excited to really zonk out. At least we were off of our feet for several hours. Mine were swollen and achy from the heat – did I mention it was in the mid-90’s all weekend? Ugh. – and not even rest, elevation and an ice pack did much to help.
We got up about 5pm to eat dinner and get ready. Oh, and to watch the Kentucky Derby! We love the Triple Crown races, so how better to get ready for our own race than to watch those gorgeous equines run for the roses? None of our picks won, but it was still fun to watch. All geared-up and ready to go, we walked out to Kidani’s bus stop just as an Animal Kingdom bus arrived – score! Or not… it was a regular park bus, not the race bus. The driver had no idea what we were talking about when we, along with another team trying to get to the race, asked if we were on the right bus. Just then, another team walked by and told us the race buses were only picking up at the Lodge, not Kidani, and would be in front of the resort, not at the bus stops. Grrrr. The Lodge is about a quarter mile walk from Kidani; we had plenty of time and I wanted to go back to the room, get my car keys, and drive to the Lodge. I just knew that walk would be brutal in the wee morning hours, coming back from running a race. But Leo somehow convinced me to just walk over and we did.
We found the bus and enjoyed a very short ride over to the race staging area in the Animal Kingdom parking lot. It was around 7:20pm and the race wouldn’t start until 9:30, with our wave – Wave 4 – not starting until around 9:55. We had a lot of time to kill and not much with which to kill it. There were photo ops, but Leo’s in a phase of not wanting to pose for pics, so that was out. A DJ was playing lots of good dance tunes, but Leo hates to dance in public, and I wanted to get OFF of my feet, so that was out. The sun was still up and the blacktop was HOT – with more than two hours to wait, we were already feeling overheated and sweaty. Once the sun went down, it got a little more comfortable, though the pavement remained awfully hot for sitting upon. I may or may not have burned my backside. I’m not telling. We were there much too early, though being so early did mean a very short wait to check a bag. Next year, I’ll plan to arrive later and not check a bag at all.
|The infamous Wall o' Potties|
Through the big, bright Start sign, past the DJ booth, under the fireworks… and into a quiet, dark parking lot. Talk about shifting gears! It was nice, actually, after all of the loud lead-up, to have a mile of relative quiet. Leo and I adjusted our pace, found our groove and were feeling good when we reached the first obstacle.
Hay bales. One bale high. Up and over. Easy-peasy. I’ve long fancied myself a hurdler (despite being 5’ 1”), so I channeled my inner Jesse Owens and hurdled those bad boys like a boss. Leo wisely did the one-foot-on-one-foot-over method and we were in and out of the obstacle in no time.
After that, it gets a little fuzzy. It wasn’t long before we entered the park and the course map shows that we went through a substantial amount of park before going “backstage”… I remember virtually none of it. It was very, very dark and awfully narrow through most of it and I was very focused on not running into other runners; it never really opened up and it was a very crowded race route. Excepting the well-lit Tree of Life, I don’t remember seeing anything noteworthy until we got “backstage”, where we encountered a number of bales of flattened cardboard the size of F-150s. Yeah, cardboard! “Look – Disney garbage!” we shouted with glee. Yes, we’re Mouse geeks. Not missing a beat, a race worker shouted back, “No ‘garbage’ here – that’s Disney RECYCLING!” So we gave an even bigger shout-out: “WOOOOO HOOOOTY, Disney recycling! Yeah, baybee!!!”
Okay, we may have been a little delirious at that point. But the second obstacle was approaching and we’d been warned repeatedly pre-race that it was a “silent obstacle.” That’s right – a silent #2. LOL! Ahem. Well, the obstacle was rows of truck tires to be run through, NFL-style, and the silence was out of respect for the sleeping rhinos in a building next to the course. It was very weird to hear an audible hush descend as we all arrived at the tires… right up until Leo broke the silence when he tripped in a tire and shouted, “It’s okay, I’m okay!” Whoops.
Again, I remember precious little of the rest of our jaunt through the park. Oh! Except this: HILLS. I never noticed before just how many little hills there are in Animal Kingdom. We don’t see many hills running here in FL, so any incline is a big honkin’ deal to us. So if you overheard Leo or me yelling to each other to “KILL THE HILL!” you now know why. :)
Out of the park, we faced the final obstacle, which, based on pictures and reports from previous EEC’s, we thought would be a climb over a cargo net wall. We were pretty excited about the cargo net climb. In fact, Leo had been telling me for weeks that he’d help me over if I got stuck. We were totally ready to pull ourselves over the rope wall like a couple of monkeys. So when we rounded the corner and found a sad looking net stretched about a foot off the ground over some Astroturf, we came to a literal halt and must have had the confused puppy look on our faces.
Leo quickly saw that we could choose to go around and skip it, but I pulled him back and insisted that we were going under that net, by golly; we would not be skipping any portion of the race! I wish they had a split time for just that obstacle, because we flew past our fellow net competitors. Sure, I got a big puff of dirt in my eye and a couple of brush burns on my backside (which really added to the blacktop burn, let me tell ya), but I was all sorts of badass as we finished the 5K and grabbed our first of five clues for the scavenger hunt portion of the challenge.
Yep, I was all sorts of badass, right up until I tried to read the clue.
|One of our clues|
It was dark out there; very dark. They gave us a feeble little red penlight, but it didn’t do much to illuminate the words. Words that had to have been printed in a 5-point font. And I, without my reading glasses. And that was pretty much our undoing. Leo did his best to read the clues, but he was hours past his bedtime at that point and it was taking us five minutes just to find out what each clue said. And then we couldn’t figure out most of the answers. Thank goodness for the fantastic volunteers staffing the clue checkpoints who, when I asked for a little help because I couldn’t actually read the text of the clues, just fed us answers. Answers that still didn’t make sense! Maybe we were just too tired for such an endeavor. Or maybe we’d make lousy CSI agents. All I know is that it took f o r e v e r to reach the final Finish line.
I’m sorry to say that we did not enjoy the scavenger hunt part of the race at all. Beyond my problems with the clues themselves, it was crowded and loud and just not our cup of tea. But once we made it through the very congested finish chute and got our uber-cool medals, it was all worth it. This is some seriously cool race bling, even if my compass only points to the right!
I have to say that the end of the race was totally anticlimactic and, frankly, a bit of a let-down. We had to walk, not run, through the finish chute due to crowding, the poor volunteers handing out medals looked completely overwhelmed as they just handed them to us and yelled, “Keep moving forward!”, and I felt like salmon swimming upstream as I led us through the hoards of humanity to the water and Powerade table. Bottles in hand, we finally found an opening through which we slipped into an open little area to rehydrate and get our bearings. I’d stopped taking in fluids around 7:30 and it was nearing 11:30; I tore into my bottle of Powerade, took a big swig… and spat it out into the bush to my side. It was HOT! Just not un-cold, but warmer than air temp, which was still hovering near 80. Crazy! Leo and I ditched our bottle of blue bliss, as did most everyone around us; what a colossal waste. Several bottles of marginally cooler water and a banana later, we felt recovered enough to enjoy the after-party.
Oh yes – in true Disney style, several rides stayed open late into the night for racers and their guests! Our plan had been to ride Expedition Everest, the race’s namesake attraction, first and the entrance was right in front of us – but the posted wait time was 45 minutes. Uh, NO. There is no way I’ll wait 45 minutes in line for a ride in any conditions, let alone when physically exhausted, sweaty, hungry and in need of a puff from my inhaler. So we set out on what would become a half-mile hike to find the bag check pick-up. Along the way, we took a ride on Dinosaur and got our finisher’s photos taken.
When we finally found the loooooong line for bag pick-up, we were told it would be a 45-minute wait.
I turned around and got a beer from the nearest cart.
45 minutes to get my bag back?!?! Crazy. If it hadn’t held our inhalers and much-needed protein bars, I seriously would have abandoned it. In the end it took less than 15 minutes, so I’m glad we stuck it out. After a little break to wolf down said protein bars and yet more water, we took a (literal) spin on Primeval Hurl…, er, Whirl, and then finally made our summit bid on Expedition Everest to end the night.
Another half-mile hike to the bus, a quarter-mile from the Lodge to Kidani, showers for all, ice all over my legs and feet for me, and we fell asleep around 2am, the latest Leo’s EVER been up.
Day 3 – May 6 We stayed in bed for as long as we could the next day, then packed up our things and checked out before heading to Epcot for lunch and a few rides. I chose Epcot purposely, knowing it would force us to walk at least a mile. It wasn’t easy – my feet were killing me. But I’m glad we did it; I was ready to take a recovery run Monday thanks to the stretching effects of our Sunday walking. After a huge pizza lunch at Via Napoli, we made our way back home, where the evils of reality hit me like a club: Leo’s summer camps had been canceled, several of my prescriptions had been screwed up, and a check I’d written had been processed in the wrong amount. Oh joy. Those EEC clues didn’t seem so bad in comparison.
In the end, we had a good time, though I much preferred the morning Tangled Royal Family 5K we did in Feb. to the EEC. I’ve heard runDisney expanded the registration cap by quite a bit this year (the total number of runners was around 5,100) and it showed: the entire race felt crowded and disorganized to me. Will we do it again? Probably. I’ll just be sure to stay OFF my feet the day before, not check a bag, and take a little more time to see just what I’m running through.
So, what’s next? Three months of hot, sweaty summer training for the Tower of Terror 10-Miler! That includes running during two summer vacations – several at altitude in the NC mountains, and a few at WDW. Stay tuned – this could get interesting!